It’s no secret that many of the best video games were in some way inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. Since the 1980s, video games have carved out their own niche and now stand solidly on their own.
In true circle-of-life fashion, there are some excellent video games to play that could inspire and enhance your D&D games. For the DMs out there, here are five video games you should play to help you be better at what you do.
The Caesar series of video games are historical real-time strategy games set in the ancient Roman Empire. Settlement planning is the heart of the Caesar video games, and everything is under your control. For DMs, Caesar can teach you about handling a settlement’s basic resources (food and water), population (control and class structure), finance (businesses and taxes), health (immediate and preventative care), religion, entertainment, and many other necessary items required for a settlement to function.
Dungeon Master’s Guide pages 15-17 cover D&D settlements, and have them categorized in 3 size classes: village, town, and city. The Caesar video games can help you better understand the differences between those classes, and the dangers that can be expected when a crucial element of settlement planning is not met.
For example, what happens when a village’s only water supply disappears? Or when a mysterious sickness break out in a huge city with hundreds of multiple possible origins? These could make for some great potential player quests, if you know how to properly set up and execute them.
The Civilization series can help you be a better DM by looking at creating campaigns on a macro level. Page 14 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide covers “Mapping Your Campaign” at the continent, kingdom, and province scale. Before you get into the act of settlement planning, you first have to decide where in your game world those will be located.
The Civ games show how geography and resources help greatly define the purpose and culture of a settlement. Those placed next to mountains may be primarily mining towns, and provide a bulk of the precious ore and gems to the rest of the province. A settlement on the edge of a great forest may provide the best woodcarvers in the realm. The Civ games show you how to connect settlements with their locations, thereby giving them meaning and character in your world, and in the eyes of your players.
The Elder Scrolls (Skyrim)
Skyrim (and all Elder Scrolls video games) can easily inspire all kinds of DM goodness. Perhaps the best inspiration for DMs comes in seeing how well Skyrim sets up and plays out open world encounters and specific quest locations.
In Skyrim, you can take your character down any main road, follow any river or stream, or hike along any old goat trail, and you’re bound to encounter some person, place, or creature of interest. Why is this important? As a DM, you never want your players to feel as if they are being railroaded down a set adventure path. “Providing A World To Explore” (see DMG page 34) with open and equal opportunities for hack & slash and roleplaying encounters is one of the best ways to keep your players engaged and invested in the world you’ve created.
Skyrim is also fantastic at showing how to design direct quests, especially quests with multiple objectives. At low levels, D&D quests with a single objective are good. But as characters advance, so do their skills, and it’s a DMs job to design quests and encounter locations that challenge them.
Dungeons & Dragons
The most obvious video games to play are ones which are directly tied in with the tabletop D&D game. Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Neverwinter, and Sword Coast Legends are just a few that come to mind.
Sharing plenty of sensory details with your players is a great way to set the atmosphere of an encounter. On page 17 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, under the heading Atmosphere, there are a few paragraphs explaining how important this is, and some ways to do it.
Official D&D video games are good for DMs in that they allow you to experience many of the most famous locations in D&D history. Would you like to have your players adventure in the fabled cities of Baldur’s Gate, Sigil, Stormreach, or Neverwinter? D&D video games will show you those places first-hand, and allow you to get a deeper and more personal understanding about them, which can be passed on to your players during their encounters.
For DMs wanting to learn how to create lively NPCs, you have to look no further than the Fallout video game series.
Just a few of the most memorable Fallout characters include The Master (Fallout), Hakunin (Fallout 2), Moira Brown (Fallout 3), Vance (Fallout: New Vegas), and all the companions from Fallout 4. They all have the hallmarks of what make NPCs significant, including deeply interesting backstories, believable (and not always likeable) personalities, and their own motivations for doing what they do.
Get into the Fallout games and pay close attention to how these NPCs are portrayed in game. Then dive into DMG Chapter 4: “Creating Nonplayer Characters,” and allow them to inspire the creation of your own NPCs. Trust me, your players will thank you for it.
There are, of course, hundreds of other video games that can and do inspire Dungeon Masters at their craft. I’ve shared just a few of mine here, and now I’d love to hear which ones inspire you, how, and why. Share your list in the Comments below, or through your social media outlet of choice.
Image screenshots by author.